1 Store55 Reviews
Pros: Fast lens, large sensor, panorama, movie mode, high ISO
Cons: UI quirks, some ergonomic/usability flaws
The Sony RX-100 presents an interesting set of challenges that detract from its excellent shooting performance and image quality. There are several quirks that already annoy me but in the end the image quality and speed win out and I will adjust to the UI quirks.
What I love (these are highlights and not a comprehensive list of the camera's features):
1) The in-camera charging is a plus for me, although there are plenty of folks that would prefer an external charger so that one battery can be charged in the cradle while the other is in the camera. I can appreciate that scenario. However, for travel I truly appreciate not having to carry another charger. Instead, I can use one of the standard micro-USB cables I already carry, coupled with either my trusty iPad charger or an external USB charger/battery pack (like the Anker or Mophie). I also appreciate that the micro-USB port is now behind a door on the side of the camera (my wife has a Sony DSC-HX20V which has the charge port inexplicably mounted on the bottom of the camera, leaving me to choose to either place the camera lens down or LCD down on a surface when charing).
2) The fast lens: the RX-100 has a 28-100mm f1.8-4.9 (35mm equivalent) lens with optical stabilization. That's marvelously fast at the wide end for a camera this size with an above average sized sensor. This is not a real portrait camera, but it does create incredible bokeh for macro shots and I have been pleased so far with candid shots. The speed is a lot less impressive when zoomed in (f4.9 @ 100mm equiv), especially considering that this is only a 3.6x zoom factor. However, with the somewhat larger sensor it would be difficult to achieve longer focal lengths in this body size.
3) There is a lot of debate about whether this is really a 1" sensor as Sony markets it (the sensor active area is 13.2x8.8mm or about .62" on the diagonal). This is significantly smaller than APS-C and m43 sensor formats but still much bigger than other compacts (like the Canon S90 I replaced with this camera). Putting that aside, this is still a large sensor for this class of body and I am pleased with results. Noise is well controlled and I would not have any qualms with shooting at ISO 400, OK with 800 if necessary, and 1600 in an emergency. After that there are a lot of compromises. Now, if you want to compare this to a DSLR with an APS-C sized sensor, this is not impressive. However, to my perspective, this is about the performance I used to get out of my Nikon D80 several years ago and I am well chuffed that I'm getting that performance now out of a point-and-shoot form factor. Yay!
4) Movie mode: Sony is very experienced with camcorders and they have done a good implementation of it on the RX100. The camera is capable of capturing in both AVCHD and MP4 formats. I like that the lens is zoomable while recording video, with the lens motor speed slowed considerably to reduce the sound of the motor in the recording. I also like that movie mode can be engaged from most of the still image modes. Video recording is started/stopped with a dedicated movie button. In addition, during video recording, the shutter button can be used to capture still images (although the buffer takes much longer to clear so don't expect to do burst captures!).
5) Short cut buttons. One of my favorite features of the Canon S90 is the dedicated short cut button. The RX100 has a short cut button the brings up a 7 function menu (assignable to user chosen functions) as well as the ability to set custom functions to the left and right mode wheel button positions. So the degree of customization is much greater, although I do take issue with some of the functions that can be selected (more on that later).
6) Tilt-able flash: this is not a true bounce flash, but the spring-loaded flash mechanism can be tilted back with a finger while firing. While the flash is a bit weak to be used generally as a bounce flash, there are certainly situations where you can achieve a very pleasing flash picture rather than the usual "caught in a flash of lightning" effect more typical of a compact point-and-shoot. I also like that the flash is spring loaded rather than motorized like the Canon S90 (I've been surprised more than once at the flash popping up right under my fingers while using a two-handed grip).
Things that perplex/frustrate me:
1) Short cut menu: WB. One of the functions that you can assign to one of the seven customization slots associated with shortcut Fn button is White Balance. I use this frequently to set custom white balance with a WhiBal pocket grey card I keep in the camera case. On the Canon S90, you can assign the Custom Set WB function to the Fn button, which both sets the white point and sets the camera to use the new custom setting. This made it incredibly easy to set custom WB and is why I formed the habit of always carrying a WhiBal. However, on the RX100. while you can set the WB menu to one of the Fn slots, that version of the WB menu does not include an option for setting the custom WB. You have to use a different menu (not settable to Fn) to do this…although you can set this version of the menu to either the left or right buttons. Note however, that there is no way to achieve the single button setup of custom WB that I had on the S90. This is probably my single biggest annoyance, especially since it can have such a significant impact on image quality. And yes, if I shoot raw I wouldn't have to worry about this.
2) Sweep panorama. Sony pioneered sweep panoramas and they have a good implementation here. However, it is not as good as on other Sony cameras. On my wires DSC-H20V, in sweep panorama you can use the up/down/left/right directional keypad to select the direction of the sweep. I frequently use that function when using sweep pano on the H20V. However, on the RX100 you have to go into the camera menu in order to set the direction, which takes several extra button presses and is less intuitive than the control scheme on the H20V. This would be mitigated somewhat if you could assign pano setup to Fn, but alas that is not an option.
3) OK, this is really minor, but it also really annoys me: the markings in the battery compartment that indicate the proper orientation of the battery are covered up and not visible if a memory card is inserted into the camera. Did nobody at Sony actually look at this?!? Now, because I'm using this as a travel camera and intend to just charge in-camera using a micro-USB cable, I'll probably rarely if ever take out the battery. Still, I am perplexed at this usability blunder.
4) Lack of a grip. The RX100 has a finely machined and solid aluminum body with just the bottom plate made of plastic. The battery/memory card access door has a metal hinge and a metal frame to which the plastic cover is mounted. There are mounting points on both sides of the camera to which you can attach the included wrist strap OR strap lugs. Overall, a really solid quality construction. And very slippery. There is a good thumb grip on the back to help hold the camera more securely, but a front grip would really improve the ergonomics of the camera. It would also disrupt the elegant lines of the camera which I guess is why there is no grip. Luckily, Richard Franiec has one of his excellent metal grips available for the RX100 and it greatly improves the camera's hand feel. However, at this price, I'm disappointed that I have to pay another $35 to make the camera more functional.
I bring up these points because the praise for this camera has been so effusive. I fear that in all the praise, Sony will not hear critical feedback that could improve a great camera to one that is legendary. So, despite my criticism, most of these things are annoyances rather than issues that I truly hate. Overall, I am well pleased with this camera and look forward to using it for (hopefully) many years as I did with my S90.